In 2002 the South African Society of Artists, the oldest surviving organisation of its kind in our country, marks its centenary. It is perhaps not generally known by present generations that the Society was the first to nurture a sense of community among our practising artists across former colonial and provincial divisions, and that it demanded the recognition of South African art at an official and national level. Its early membership was surprisingly broadly- based, featuring some of our finest practitioners in painting, sculpture, architecture, design and craft, as well as students and interested laymen.
Prior to the opening of our National Gallery in 1930, and even before the general development of formal training facilities for artists, the Society staged important public art events and promoted art education and art appreciation with the public. Although artistic controversies, shifts in taste and the creation of official structures for the visual arts in South Africa displaced many of the earlier roles and functions of the Society, diminishing its influence and prestige, it has survived.
Its resilience lies in the fact that it has continued to provide a sense of community and a sharing of skills for those artists and interest groups who practise outside of the institutional sector. The Society plays a vital role in continuing to extend, in the words of one of its founders, "a brotherly hand to any disciple of art."
The recent decision of the Society to create sponsored memberships for artists from our disadvantaged communities is in keeping with this early sentiment and deserves encouragement. Furthermore, its creation of a new group of patrons, all prominent artists drawn from the diverse cultures of our nation, promises much for the future.
While this centenary is an occasion for the South African Society of Arts to reflect on its history, it also presents it with an opportunity to rededicate itself to its mission. As our most senior visual arts organisation it is deserving of respect and it will, I am sure, renew and expand its efforts to encourage the practice and appreciation of the visual and plastic arts in South Africa.
Dr B S Ngubane
Minister of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology